Bird Launches London Pilot to Win Support for U.K. Scooters
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. electric-scooter giant Bird Rides Inc. has begun a limited pilot of its service in London—a city where the use of scooters on public roads is illegal.
Bird’s pilot won’t fall foul of the law however, as the scooters will only be available for use on private land. Starting Tuesday, 50 scooters will be available for journeys along a predetermined route of about 1.2 miles between the Stratford rail station in East London, and the technology-focused coworking campus Here East, where Bird’s London office is based.
The scooters will be restricted by GPS to specific pathways through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to avoid any law-breaking. If a rider deviates from that route, the electric motor will shut down. Journeys will cost 1 pound ($1.30) to unlock, followed by 20 pence per minute.
A spokesman for the company said that Bird hoped the initiative “will help demonstrate the benefit Bird will bring to U.K. cities more broadly.”
The illegality of electric scooters on British roads stems back to the U.K.’s Highways Act of 1835, forbidding the use of “horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description” on footpaths. Scooters fall into the “carriage” category. Bird’s test pilot is the latest effort by the company to win local support for its product, and woo lawmakers. Bloomberg reported in August that the company—most recently valued at $2 billion—has been in talks with London city officials for months about a more formal pilot as seen in other European countries, including Paris and Tel Aviv.
One of Bird’s largest competitors, Lime, is also preparing to launch in the U.K., but initially with e-bikes rather than scooters. The city of Milton Keynes, about 55 miles north of London, will be the first full U.K. launch destination for Lime’s bike service when it rolls out in the very near future, according to a person familiar with the plans who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
Electric scooter rental services have exploded in popularity this year. Both companies are not yet two years old, but are burning through cash in a race to grab market share. Despite building war chests worth several hundred million dollars each in the past few months, Bird and Lime are also actively looking for even more financing.
U.S. startups aren’t alone in trying to win over Europe’s fledgling scooter market. In October, Stockholm-based Northzone Ventures—an early investor in Spotify Technology SA and iZettle AB, with about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) under management—said it led an investment round of 25 million euros into Berlin’s Tier Mobility, which is already active in Vienna.
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